Dossers at the Imperial War Museum by Joyce Herbert

A place devoted to death. At noon, when I came out, the sun
struck at my eyes. I’d been trying to hear Minnenwerfers,
catch the flare of a Verey light, the thud of a phosgene shell.

Across one wall a blinded daisychain of men went clambering
like stricken insects waving feeble antennae. Eyes burnt out,
they clutched the jacket of the man in front:
this neat clean dugout never knew them, neither did
the model soldier standing at the door, his webbing blancoed,
boots bright, puttees perfect, head high.
A general’s delight.

There were photographs of running figures wavering,
lurching, buckling at the knees. There were humped heaps
fallen, stranded like fish on a desolate beach.

Sunshine showered sparks, drenched the steps.
I could not see, shaded my eyes.
They were all out there. Some tide of war had washed them
down the steps from Bapaume or the Somme,
rolled in cocoons of blankets, sprawled on their backs, knees up,
spilled on the shaven glass:
prone near the flowerbeds they slept like stones,
jaws dropped, mittened fingers clutching.
Far under bushes I could see them
in attitudes of death,
rolled in their plastic bags waiting for something to happen.

by Joyce Herbert

Отчаянье (Despair) by Andrey Bely

To Z. N. Gippius

Enough’s enough: don’t wait, don’t hope;
My wretched people, scatter!
Fall into space and shatter,
Year upon tormented year.

Beggarly, will-less age.
Permit me, oh my motherland,
To sob in your damp fatuous freedom
To weep amid your empty steppes: –

There along the hunching plain –
Where flocks of lush green oaks stand,
Rippling, raised up in a cone
To the swarthy leaden clouds above.

Where panic snarls across the steppe,
Rising like a one-armed bush,
And whistles loud into the wind
Through its ragged branches.

Where from the night there stare into my soul,
Looming over chains of hills,
The cruel yellow eyes
Of your mindless tavern lights –

Where the angry rut of deaths and plagues
And waves of sickness have passed by –
Hasten thither, Russia, disappear,
Be swallowed up in the abyss.

by Андрей Белый (Andrei Bely)
a.k.a. Бори́с Никола́евич Буга́ев (Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev)
(July 1908)
translated by Bernard Meares

Отчаянье

З. Н. Гиппиус

Довольно: не жди, не надейся –
Рассейся, мой бедный народ!
В пространство пади и разбейся
За годом мучительный год!

Века нищеты и безволья.
Позволь же, о родина мать,
В сырое, в пустое раздолье,
В раздолье твое прорыдать:–

Туда, на равнине горбатой,–
Где стая зеленых дубов
Волнуется купой подъятой,
В косматый свинец облаков,

Где по полю Оторопь рыщет,
Восстав сухоруким кустом,
И в ветер пронзительно свищет
Ветвистым своим лоскутом,

Где в душу мне смотрят из ночи,
Поднявшись над сетью бугров,
Жестокие, желтые очи
Безумных твоих кабаков,–

Туда,– где смертей и болезней
Лихая прошла колея,–
Исчезни в пространство, исчезни,
Россия, Россия моя!

Июль 1908

Additional information: Бори́с Никола́евич Буга́ев (Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev) better known by the pen name Андрей Белый (Andrei Bely or just Biely) was a Russian novelist, Symbolist poet, theorist and literary critic. He was a committed anthroposophist and follower of Rudolf Steiner. His novel Petersburg (1913/1922) was regarded by Vladimir Nabokov as the third-greatest masterpiece of modernist literature. The Andrei Bely Prize (Премия Андрея Белого), one of the most important prizes in Russian literature, was named after him.

The poem is dedicated to Зинаида Николаевна Гиппиус (Zinaida Nikolayevna Gippius). a Russian poet, playwright, novelist, editor and religious thinker, one of the major figures in Russian symbolism. The story of her marriage to Dmitry Merezhkovsky, which lasted 52 years, is described in her unfinished book Dmitry Merezhkovsky (Paris, 1951; Moscow, 1991).

Bely, who changed his name from Bugayev, was a distinguished theorist and a leading writer in the Symbolist movement. The son of a professor of mathematics at Moscow University, he graduated there himself in mathematics in 1903. Bely’s intellectual interests ranged from mathematics to German philosophy and literature, to Dostoyevsky, to music, to the anthroposophy of Rudolph Steiner, to the mystical clash between Western civilization and the occult forced of the East. A disciple of both Nietzsche and the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, he was the author of the extraordinary, innovative novel Petersburg (which has been translated into many languages), numerous prose works, collections of poems, and a celebrated trilogy of memoirs that is a primary document of the intellectual life of the Silver Age. For his imaginative experimentation with the Russian language he is comparable only to James Joyce in English.

Without the impetuous, contradictory, provocative figure of Bely it would be impossible to imagine the intellectual atmosphere of the pre-Revolution times. Together with Aleksandr Blok he summoned the Revolution as a retribution for the collapsing tsarist regime; when it took place, he first perceived it as the beginning of the spiritual and religious renaissance of all humankind. He possessed an unusually brilliant gift for improvisation and innovation, but this led sometimes to a glibness in his writing. Most of Bely’s verse has not stood the test of time. In his sometimes childlike and naïve outbursts, combined capriciously with profound erudition, Bely was defenselessly sincere and appears like Pushkin’s (echoing Cervantes’s) “knight of sorrowful countenance” in the literature of his time.

Biographical information about Bely, p.89-90, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. (transcribed as found in the original text).

Among Those Killed In The Dawn Raid Was A Man Aged A Hundred by Dylan Thomas

When the morning was waking over the war
He put on his clothes and stepped out and he died,
The locks yawned loose and a blast blew them wide,
He dropped where he loved on the burst pavement stone
And the funeral grains of the slaughtered floor.
Tell his street on its back he stopped a sun
And the craters of his eyes grew springshoots and fire
When all the keys shot from the locks, and rang.
Dig no more for the chains of his grey-haired heart.
The heavenly ambulance drawn by a wound
Assembling waits for the spade’s ring on the cage.
O keep his bones away from the common cart,
The morning is flying on the wings of his age
And a hundred storks perch on the sun’s right hand.

By Dylan Thomas
(July 1941)

A recording of Dylan Thomas reciting his poem.

Additional information: I have seen online a number of sources have ‘springshots’ instead of ‘springshoots’. The book I reference, and the above clip where you can hear the poet himself reciting the poem, confirms it is ‘springshoot’ . I can only imagine those sources copied each other or there is some alternate ‘American English’ version I am unfamiliar with.

Characteristically, the sonnet refuses to let the natural triumph of the centenarian’s death be obscured by piety, officialese or propaganda. Instead, it records the events with a quiet irony – that such an old man should need to be killed by a bomb. The flat title was an actual headline in a newspaper. With an even crueller irony. Thomas considered, as a title for the second part of ‘Ceremony After a Fire Raid’ known as ‘Among Those Burned to Death was a Child Aged a Few Hours’.

Observation Post: Forward Area by Alun Lewis

The thorns are bleached and brittle,
The empty folds decay,
Rooftrees creak in the silence
Of inarticulate dismay.

Drought denudes the planting;
In the dry red heat
Dawn spills its ghostly water,
Black heads on the wheat.

Some evil presence quenches
The vagrant drunken theme
Of the swart and skinny goatherd
And the black goats of his dream.

A darker beast than poverty
Transfixed the crouching peasants there,
And tore the votive tablets down
And filled the children with such fear.

The cowdung fires guttered out,
The wizened women cried,
The bridegroom lay trembling,
And rigid the bride.

Love could be had for nothing.
And where is love now?
Gone with the shambling oxen,
Gone with the broken plough,
Death lives here now.

by Alun Lewis

A Time of War by Sally Roberts Jones

We sit and talk, over coffee in the open-plan lounge.
Admire the stones in that hearth –
Pebbles from Morfa Beach gathered out of ship-wreck and
On a family outing.
Imperceptibly stories move round to the ancient subject.
‘When I had my third…’
‘I told them the pains had started…’
‘I was left by myself in the ward with the visitors coming
And there was the baby, popped out in a sea of flowers,
Launched on an ocean of chocolates.

Our membership’s fully paid up, our initiation
Long past in that sisterhood
Of undignified sweat. Now we pattern our legend,
The folklore of generations renews on our tongues.
‘They decided to break my waters…’
‘I couldn’t sit down except on a pillow…’
What echo?
What voice can I hear behind us,
We four placid matrons
Who speak in such measured remembrance
Of passion and blood?
‘We heaped up the bodies to burn them…
I gave them whiskey, they laughed as they did it.’
‘The Sergeant
Was a bastard.’
‘We painted the coal for their visit – painted it black!’

That too I remember.
Dark hours of smoke and hard bar stools,
And the long-gone soldiers
Rehearsing their stories of pain, of ridiculous order,
The names like a litany:
St. Nazaire, Salerno, Nicosia
Abu Dhabi, Seoul, Londonderry.

Civilian veterans, brought face to face
With possible death, with fear, with absurdity rampant –
We will never swap tales, exchange a still-birth for an ambush
Our weird sisters for wartime’s fell serjeant.
But the echo is there –
We are all of us conscripts
In this campaign that is staying alive.

By Sally Roberts Jones

Additional information: The book I referenced referred to the poem both as ‘A Time of War’, on the contents and acknowledgement pages but as ‘A time at war’ where the poem itself is shown. I assume ‘A Time of War’ is the correct title but will mention the other in case anyone knows it by the alternative.

Sally Roberts Jones (born 30 November 1935) is an English-born Welsh poet, publisher and critic. She is a founding member of the English Language Section of Yr Academi Gymreig, she was its Secretary / Treasurer from 1968 to 1975 and its Chair from 1993 to 1997.

She founded the Alun Books imprint and is on the editorial board of the poetry journal Roundyhouse. She has also written and lectured on the cultural and industrial history of Wales and contributed to the Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales, the Dictionary of Welsh Biography and the New Dictionary of National Biography.

Two particular field of interest she has are the development of the Arthurian legend and research into the field of Welsh Writing in English, though she has also written about Essex, where she was initially raised. In 2019 she was elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.

.

Morfa beach is known locally as “The Morfa” (in Welsh as Y Morfa meaning ‘the sea marsh’), it shapes the south side of the estuary of the River Conwy. Today it is a large sandy bay, which at low tide forms part of the extensive sandy beaches and mussel banks of Conwy Bay, Morfa Conwy has many developments on its land including a beach, gold club, marina and an industrial estate.

St Nazaire is a commune in the Loire-Atlantique department in western France, in traditional Brittany. The poem refers to the St Nazaire Raid or Operation Chariot was a British amphibious attack on the heavily defended Normandie dry dock at St Nazaire in German-occupied France during the Second World War.

Salerno is is an ancient city and commune in Campania (southwestern Italy) and is the capital of the namesake province. It is located on the Gulf of Salerno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The city hosted Victor Emmanuel III, the King of Italy, who moved from Rome in 1943 after Italy negotiated a peace with the Allies in World War II, making Salerno the capital of the “Government of the South” (Regno del Sud) and therefore provisional government seat for six months. Some of the Allied landings during Operation Avalanche (the invasion of Italy) occurred near Salerno.

Nicosia is the largest city, capital, and seat of government of Cyprus. It is located near the centre of the Mesaoria plain, on the banks of the River Pedieos. I am assuming the poem is referring to the armed struggle, in 1955, against British rule which aimed to unite the island with Greece, Enosis. The struggle was led by EOKA, a Greek Cypriot nationalist military resistance organisation, and supported by the vast majority of Greek Cypriots. The unification with Greece failed and instead the independence of Cyprus was declared in 1960. During the period of the struggle, Nicosia was the scene of violent protests against British rule.

Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second-most populous city of the United Arab Emirates (after Dubai), it is also the capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The city of Abu Dhabi is located on an island in the Persian Gulf, off the Central West Coast. Most of the city and the Emirate reside on the mainland connected to the rest of the country.

Seoul, officially the Seoul Special City, is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. In 1945, the city was officially named Seoul, and was designated as a special city in 1949. During the Korean War, Seoul changed hands between the Soviet/Chinese-backed North Korean forces and the American-backed South Korean forces several times, leaving the city heavily damaged after the war. The capital was temporarily relocated to Busan. One estimate of the extensive damage states that after the war, at least 191,000 buildings, 55,000 houses, and 1,000 factories lay in ruins. In addition, a flood of refugees had entered Seoul during the war, swelling the population of the city and its metropolitan area to an estimated 1.5 million by 1955. Following the war, Seoul began to focus on reconstruction and modernization.

Derry, officially Londonderry, is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and the fifth-largest city on the island of Ireland.[8] The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Old Irish name Daire (in modern Irish ‘Doire’) meaning “oak grove”. The old walled city lies on the west bank of the River Foyle, which is spanned by two road bridges and one footbridge. The city now covers both banks (Cityside on the west and Waterside on the east). During the Irish War of Independence, the area was rocked by sectarian violence, partly prompted by the guerilla war raging between the Irish Republican Army and British forces, but also influenced by economic and social pressures. The conflict which became known as the Troubles is widely regarded as having started in Derry with the Battle of the Bogside. The Civil Rights Movement had also been very active in the city. In the early 1970s the city was heavily militarised and there was widespread civil unrest. Several districts in the city constructed barricades to control access and prevent the forces of the state from entering.